Krajicek’s time is now

Lukas KrajicekIt’s hard to believe Lukas Krajicek is only entering his third full NHL season. He made his NHL debut with Florida on April 6, 2002 as a call-up from the OHL’s Peterborough Petes. But it took until 2005-06 for the #24 overall pick of the Panthers in 2001 to establish himself as an everyday blueliner at this level, as he spent 135 games with the San Antonio Rampage, Florida’s AHL affiliate.

Now it’s time for him to make a name for himself.

Since being traded to Vancouver with Roberto Luongo in the June 2006 blockbuster deal for Todd Bertuzzi, Krajicek has quietly continued to hone his puck-moving game. Even though the 24-year-old Czech is often overshadowed by Vancouver’s Big Four of Mattias Ohlund, Willie Mitchell, Kevin Bieksa, and Sami Salo, he’s sure to see extra duty both at even strength and on the power play this year when injuries arise, such as Salo’s hairline fracture in his left wrist suffered during a September 16 intrasquad game.

Veteran Aaron Miller, who signed a one-year deal with Vancouver in the off-season, was expected to play a stay-at-home role alongside Krajicek starting during the exhibition slate. Even though Miller’s currently out due to abdominal surgery, Krajicek remains optimistic that it won’t take long to establish the right chemistry once the 36-year-old American slots back into the lineup.

“He’s a good player, and I think he’s going to help us a lot,” said Krajicek. “He’s got great experience in the league, and I think it’s only a positive that he’s here. He’s going to help me so much if I play with him, and he’s been in the league so long that I don’t think it’ll be that hard. We’ll just have to go through a couple of things, and we’ll go from there.”

After recording three goals and 13 assists during the regular season, Krajicek chipped in two assists during Vancouver’s playoff run versus the Dallas Stars and the eventual champion Anaheim Ducks.

“The playoffs was the biggest experience for me,” Krajicek said. “The game is much quicker and everything. I think I improved a lot on my defense last year, and I’ve got to improve a lot this year.”

Krajicek scored 53 points in 52 games in his last year with Peterborough, prompting then-Panthers GM Rick Dudley to hail him as the best D-man in junior hockey. But the 6-2, 192-pound Prostejov native hasn’t come close to that kind of production at the pro level.

“I’ve got to get better at shooting from the blueline,” said Krajicek. “Back then, I was in my third year in the [OHL], and it was kind of like playing against kids. Hopefully I’ll be at the same point as I was in juniors in a couple of years, or maybe even this year.”

Of course, the Vancouver coaching staff will only give him the opportunity to put up better numbers if protecting Luongo remains his number one priority.

“Luongo’s an unbelievable goalie,” Krajicek said. “He wants to see all the pucks, and whenever there’s a shot from the blueline, he screams for us to move out of the way. He doesn’t really care if their forwards stand in front of him, so we’re just clearing rebounds. It’s a huge support to have him behind us.”

While Luongo will likely get the lion’s share of the headlines for Vancouver, his former Panther teammate simply hopes he’ll do enough personally to get his name spelled right. Just Google “Lucas Krajicek,” and sadly, 441 results pop up. (If it’s any comfort, “Marcus Naslund” yields 9,330 results.)

Would Krajicek be angry if he won the Cup and the engravers misspelled his name on the sacred silver mug?

“Yeah, I think I would be angry!” Krajicek said with a laugh. “I think I would like my name spelled right on the Stanley Cup. But I mean, it’s far away, and that would be a dream come true.”

Krajicek’s Kravings

Favorite NHL cities: Tampa was great. I like the sunny weather and everything. Phoenix is great because of the weather too. But playing-wise, it doesn’t really matter. Minnesota, Calgary, Edmonton, these are great cities to play in because you’ve always got sold-out rinks.

Favorite Vancouver restaurant: There are so many good ones, but I like Morton’s Steakhouse.

Favorite dressing room music: I would say “One” by Metallica. Willie Mitchell usually takes care of the music before the games, and Metallica’s played, I’d say, the most. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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